“Women will change the nature of power, rather than power changing the nature of women.” The late activist and longtime women’s movement leader Bella Abzug made that prediction some two decades ago. And on Women’s Equality Day today, amidst especially troubling and uncertain times for America’s women and families, her words seem more fitting than ever.
Women’s Equality Day commemorates the day some women in the United States won the right to vote, when the 19th Amendment was ratified and added to the Constitution. It sent a clear and then-unprecedented message that women’s voices mattered and that, from then on, we would have a say in the decisions that affect our lives, our families and our country’s future. The right wasn’t just given to us; women and their allies struggled and sacrificed tremendously to achieve suffrage. But even then, and in the decades that followed, many women and people of color were denied the right to vote. Shameful efforts to disenfranchise communities continue today.
Ninety-seven years after what is often hailed as one of the greatest achievements toward women’s equality, despite decades of hard-fought progress, it is deeply frustrating and disheartening to feel like we’re moving backward. In addition to the despicable attacks on people’s voting rights that target people of color, our president campaigned on and continues to use misogyny, racism, xenophobia and bigotry to sow hatred and fear, rejecting our country’s values and its greatest strengths. Too few members of his party are stepping up to condemn or seriously challenge him. And white supremacists and bigots are emboldened and engaging in horrendous acts of intimidation and violence.
But there is another side to the nation’s story right now – the story of the power and persistence of women. Everywhere you look, women are mobilizing and organizing in inspiring ways to resist all efforts to take us backward, and to advance the policies we know our families and the country need, such as fair and living wages, nondiscrimination protections, paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, and access to quality and affordable health care, including comprehensive reproductive health care.
The millions of people who turned out for the Women’s March and sister marches across the country were the first sign of just how critical and powerful women’s voices would be in the resistance. Since then, women in rural, suburban and urban areas have stepped up to share stories, hold community meetings, lead state and local advocacy campaigns, explore running for elected office, and more. Women are organizing the resistance in communities that voted for Trump. Women make up the overwhelming majority of people making resistance calls to Congress – 86 percent of them, according to one survey. And women of color in particular are leading the charge.
The same is true in Congress, where women have been some of the strongest voices in the resistance. They stood up for equality and against injustice and discrimination in immigration and the military. They asked tough questions of Trump’s unqualified cabinet nominees. Two Republican women in the Senate played a key role in stopping a health care bill that would have repealed the greatest advance for women’s health in a generation, causing millions to lose their coverage, defunding Planned Parenthood and denying millions access to essential preventive health services. At the same time, many women in Congress are championing the fair and family friendly policies women and families truly need.
Many organizations led by women are spearheading resistance and advocacy activities, too. Individual activist women in addition to those representing women’s groups, immigrant rights organizations, the LGBTQ community, communities of color and many others are increasingly gaining attention as inspiring and effective leaders in the resistance. Actresses, female athletes and women business leaders are also joining the chorus, calling out inequality and calling on lawmakers to act. Across many sectors and spheres of influence, women are using their voices and platforms to resist and to insist on equality.
Importantly, women’s rights are, at their core, human rights – rights that should belong to and empower all of us. The fact that many women are leading the resistance does not and should not diminish the essential work of men and a broad-based group of allies. We gain strength from our collective voice, and the resistance is – and must be – a reflection of our great nation. There is undeniably work to be done within the movement and progressive community to unify, to work better together and to lift each other up, but we share a common goal of equality for all, and we need the strength of our majority to overcome the divisive minority that holds power today.
So, this Women’s Equality Day, just seven months into the Trump administration’s anti-woman agenda, we need to remember how far we’ve come and just how much power we have to resist. We must continue to stand up and speak out every single time the health, safety, well-being and economic security of women and families are under attack. Our voices are the ones that have changed, and will continue to change, the nature of power.